Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Get Smart – Weekend Vampire – Review (TV Episode)


Director: Bruce Bilson

First aired: 1965

Contains spoilers

To be truthful I wasn’t really aware of the Get Smart series and so, when I got opportunity to watch this episode, I entered into the experience blindly and with no baggage. A comedy, and amongst Mel Brooks earliest work (he co-created the show with Buck Henry), that centres around inept Secret Agent Max Smart (Don Adams) – also known as Agent 86. He works for Control and is helped by Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) in the fight against the evil organisation KAOS.

the shadow of the weekend vampireThis episode starts with Max and Agent 52 (Don Ross) playing chess. Max gets up to pour coffee and we see a shadow rise over Agent 52. Now the use of shadow in the vampire genre is a staple that goes all the way back to Nosferatu and there is also the noir use of shadows. This therefore worked in a double sort of way. We hear a strange melody and then 52 clutches at his neck.

marks on neckMax, of course, hadn’t realised the man was dead at first but eventually the crime scene is looked over by him, the Chief (Edward Platt) and Professor Sontag (Ford Rainey). This is the third agent to die this way, with fang like marks at the throat, and the deaths always occur on a weekend. The press speculate about vampires and Sontag isn’t as dismissive of the theory as you’d expect. Max doesn’t think it’s a vampire, werewolves leave marks on the neck, he explains, vampires go straight for the throat.

the press declare 'vampire'The papers have again printed about vampires and Max has done some research into the subject. Having tried, unsuccessfully, to discover what the melody was – with the detectotune – Max and 99 head down to the lab to get the autopsy reports. When they get there Sontag is on the phone to his predecessor, Doctor Drago (Martin Kosleck). Max hears that Sontag takes long weekends and he is less than forthcoming about the case. Max and 99 decide to follow him.

Hugo looms behindHe heads to Drago’s castle and Max decides they need to check Drago out. He is dismissive of 99's idea of saying their car broke down (as a cover story) until the car breaks down. Using the kits in the boot of the car they disguise themselves as a honeymooning couple and head to the castle. Drago has a coffin in his study and they meet the mute hulk of a manservant, Hugo (William Baskin).

Many of the gags, then on, are standard haunted house type ones, with revolving wall, portrait with eyes (and mouth) cut out and so on. There are also some spy type gags (Max suggests he and 99 put on pyjamas – they’re bullet-proof he explains) and gadgets such as the expanding rice and ignitable toothpaste that allows them to blow a lock of a door. Max has a theory about why vampires sleep in coffins “Well, if you go around biting people on the neck, I guess you'll do just about everything.”

Drago 'gets in' his coffinOf course the ‘vampire’ is Drago but he isn’t a vampire, just a disaffected member of ex-staff. The coffin is the entrance to his lab, the melody comes from a double flute that fires two poisoned ice darts when it hits high C. Whilst not a real vampire, the use of genre standard concepts, for me, places this within the genre.

pyjama spiesI said I didn’t have baggage watching this, it also means that I didn’t have rose-tinted glasses. Humour wise it was all right but a little gentle for my tastes. I can see how this would have inspired Police Squad but the later programme, to me, worked so much better on a comedy level as it really pushed the envelope comparatively. Humour, however, is rather subjective.

Humour is the name of the game here, however, and whilst I always score these type of one-off episodes in respect of their vampire element, this one does rely on the humour. Gentle humour then, amusing but not wildly hysterical. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mina Jade said...

Nice - although I prefer horrors than horror comedies. Humour can ease the chilling moments (which I'm fond of).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks Mina Jade, you'll find plenty of horror lurking around these pages, plus a small amount of comedy (not all of it intentional!)

JR said...

This was one of my favorite shows growing up . . . it is, of course, rather silly at times, but that is also part of its charm. "Get Smart" featured moments of hilarious genius, such as the infamous Cone of Silence . . . I don't think I ever really laughed as hard before (at least not until Flying Circus, another inspired and silly show, made its way onto PBS)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

JR, as I said, the humour was a little gentle fo my tastes... but that is tempered by the facts that I never saw it originally and I am uing hindesight as a comparator.

More than that I watched the episode in isolation.

It still made me giggle, however, and shows like (the mentioned) police squad may nevere have appeared if not for this paving the way.

Cheers for the comment

JR said...

I vaguely remember seeing Police Squad . . . it was not on the air very long. Leslie Nielsen is a good straight man but does not have the comedic sensibility of a Don Adams . . . also the writing on those Naked Gun/Police Squad shows was too one-off for my taste (i.e. the ridiculous sight gags were more important than the actual characters or storylines).

I'm not saying Get Smart was aimed at the literati, but I really liked, and continue to admire, the characterizations on that show, particularly among the Chief, 99 and Max.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

JR - I'll take your word for now and hopefully get chance to borrow the set again and see more (rather than the one in isolation).

Often, when characterisations like you mention are involved, the show becomes funnier the more you see it.